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My puppy is sleeping beside me on the couch. She’s breathing evenly, her whole long, spotted torso rising and sinking back into the cushions with a little flutter. When I place my hand over her chest, I realize the flutter is her heart beating.
My older dog is asleep on the floor about 4 feet away. He breathes loudly, his nose a tiny black amphitheater. Unlike the puppy, he’s thick with fur. He’s a living pillow, his heart deep in his downy body.
I don’t know how anyone can worry in the company of these two drowsy dogs. But until two weeks ago, I couldn’t stop worrying.
And now life has changed completely. Last Monday, my husband and I saw Dr. Michael Ruma, a prenatal specialist in Santa Fe.
After the technician conducted a full scan of our baby’s anatomy and my reproductive anatomy and after the doctor double-checked every single one of her measurements, he talked with us for a long time.
He answered every one of our questions and since our appointment, for the first time, I believe my body is a safe place for a baby.
I know I won’t hurt it. I can walk the dogs on the icy roads, I can vacuum, I can even dance and jump – and our baby is 100 percent protected by my expanding, healthy uterus.
This kind of calm is utterly new to me.
I remember, well before my first trimester, when I could not sleep until I had worked out a way to save every member of my family should our house be attacked by arsonists. It began when I was about 6-years-old.
I had heard about arson on the news and assumed that any home, on any night, could be set on fire. It was just part of living in the suburbs. I assumed it was like a draft for a war: The arsonists would eventually pull our address out of the hat and our two-family duplex would go up in an orange inferno.
I went over my escape plan every night before I went to sleep.
I had the back bedroom, which meant I had a huge advantage in that my window overlooked the roof of the addition my dad had built onto the back of the house. Because the roof sloped down, I could easily hang from its edge and drop unharmed onto the back lawn.
However, my parents’ bedroom was in the front. They’d never survive the jump from their window. And I knew they slept more soundly than I did. They might not realize the house was burning all around them until it was too late, until they were huddled together, screaming, the flames rushing at their bed from every side.
Obviously, I would have to get my parents to my window before the fire really got out of control.
I always imagined moving quickly, but without panic, to their bedside. I would wake them up just enough– “Follow me,” I’d say. They wouldn’t know why. They’d think they were dreaming. But, as if in a trance, they’d obey.
We’d climb out my window and, deftly, I’d help them curl their fingertips around the edge of the roof. “OK, now let go,” I’d say, never losing my cool and they’d do it. They’d live.
The three of us would stand in our backyard in our pajamas, waiting for the firemen to arrive and wrap blankets around our shoulders.
I had a lot of confidence in this plan and literally went over it hundreds of times. For most of elementary school, I believed the arsonists would get us.
It was a matter of staying alert, of being ready when the night finally came.
But I also knew the plan had a terrible hole. I have always had at least one dog. At that time, we had a large Labrador / German Shepherd mix that I had named Sandy.
Many times when she sat, I would curl up next to, her almost under her belly. I don’t remember if I felt her heart beating, but I certainly felt mine. I loved that dog like she was my second mother.
Sandy did not have fingertips. How was I going to get her down from the roof? I knew she’d follow us out the window. She’d follow us anywhere.
But I wasn’t sure she’d jump and if she did jump, I wasn’t sure she’d survive.
Without hanging down first, she’d have so much farther to go.
Every night, eventually, I’d comfort myself by picturing my dad catching her. He’d be more awake by then. He was strong. He would save her. The whole family would be fine.
Now, my escape plan is much simpler. My husband, two dogs and I – even with a big belly or carrying a newborn – should fit easily though the sliding glass door in our bedroom.
The door opens directly into the backyard and from there we can run toward freedom through the prickly brown grass and goatheads in the field beyond our fence.
The firemen will find us asleep on a picnic table, a big fluttery stack of fur and skin and scratched feet.
They’ll marvel at how happy we seem, despite all our possessions being lost, nihilist arsonists roaming the streets and everywhere, everywhere outside of that picnic table, overwhelmed with chaos.